How one firm used a ’center of excellence’ for its OLAP platform

Launching a so-called “center of excellence” was key to building out an OLAP platform for TriNet, a personnel outsourcing company in the Bay Area.

When TriNet was looking to build out an online analytical processing online analytical processing (OLAP) platform, one of the first things the company did was form a so-called “center of excellence.”

It paid off. A project that otherwise might have taken a year or more was implemented in less than two months. Gauthier Vasseur, the vice president of business intelligence (BI) and performance management at TriNet, pulled seven people onto the team from departments ranging from IT, to finance and development. They even used a couple of interns. And the members of this newly founded center of excellence weren’t just working on the OLAP project part time. They were “literally transferred,” as Vasseur put it.

The group included two people from IT, one person from finance, and one developer, along with Vasseur and the interns. The interns supported BI and data preparation for Oracle Essbase, the OLAP platform TriNet decided to install. Other members of the team focused on how the project would affect other areas of the business, such as financial reporting and accounting.

All of them put their heads together to tackle the many different aspects of the project -- data integration, data alignment and data storage among them. The center of excellence never had to rely on anyone outside of the team to move the project forward. They never had to wait for a data extract during their testing and implementation processes and never had to wait for an IT guy to give them access to server hardware.

“Having all these resources under one hood was extremely important to the success of the work,” Vasseur said.

TriNet’s need for an OLAP platform

Analytics is important to a company like TriNet, a Bay Area-based personnel outsourcing company. With about 1,000 employees, the company is large enough that it needs insight into the business from different angles, and its reporting speed needs to be fast.

Spreadsheets weren’t a sophisticated enough OLAP platform. TriNet was using 40 MB-50 MB spreadsheets chock-full of macros and sharing them across the network. Employees often experienced bandwidth issues as a result, and the company had problems with versioning when multiple employees were making changes to the same spreadsheets at the same time. Spreadsheets were not able to scale with the growth of the company and the growing need for more business analytics.

So, in January 2010 the company decided it needed something more substantive – something that could boost reporting speed, perform deep dives into company data, and not give its employees headaches while using it.

Settling on Oracle Essbase, previously owned by Hyperion, came pretty quickly after that. TriNet already ran Oracle Database and Oracle E-Business Suite, (EBS) so according to Vasseur, “it seemed like an easy path to choose Essbase.”

There was more to it. TriNet also runs IBM Cognos as its BI platform, so the internal team had to decide whether to build out its OLAP platform for its ERP systems such as database and EBS, or choose the technology that goes with its BI platform in Cognos. It picked Essbase, largely because of the experience that some TriNet employees already had with Essbase while they were at other companies. Vasseur said it was a “known territory,” and that TriNet seemed to have a population of Essbase experts in-house.

Delivering the OLAP platform

The first project TriNet delivered on the OLAP platform was around profit and loss. The center of excellence built out user programs to dig deep into the line items from the general ledger, something it wasn’t able to do before.

The platform promises shipping insight as well. For example, the company might want to dig into which department is spending the most with FedEx compared to the number of employees, the number of clients that department deals with, or the size of those clients, Vasseur said.

Being able to dissect the general ledger in a relatively easy user interface is a big step forward, Vasseur said.

“We can go down all the way to the invoice, so there’s nothing that can be hidden from view,” he said. “It’s just clicking around that gets you there.”

Now that’s rolling and the “center of excellence,” far from being broken up, is seeking to deliver other projects around Essbase. Vasseur said the OLAP project will already save thousands of hours annually, and the team is looking to bump that further.

“This is the story we all wanted to write,” he said.

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